12-Pounder Napoléon: A French Cannon in the ‘Civil’ Service | HistoryNet MENU

12-Pounder Napoléon: A French Cannon in the ‘Civil’ Service

By Jon Guttman
9/7/2012 • Gear, MH Tools

Union gun crews were first to employ the 12-pounder Napoleon, but the Confederates soon replicated its versatile design for their own use. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)
Union gun crews were first to employ the 12-pounder Napoleon, but the Confederates soon replicated its versatile design for their own use. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)

In 1853 France, for neither the first nor last time, revolutionized artillery with the introduction of the Canon obusier de 12cm, modèle 1853—a cast-bronze smoothbore cannon capable of doubling as a howitzer, light enough to be pulled swiftly by a team of horses but heavy enough to destroy fortifications a half-mile away. Safe, reliable and accurate, it was also quite versatile, firing ball, shell, canister and grapeshot, the latter of which devastated infantry at close range. Entering service under Emperor Napoléon III (nephew of that Napoléon), it came to be popularly named after him.

In 1857 the U.S. Army adapted the cannon as the light 12-pounder M1857. When the Civil War broke out, the gun’s simplicity enabled the Confederates to replicate it, making the Napoléon virtually a universal artillery piece, with captured cannon easily pressed into service by either side. Wartime foundries produced some 1,100 Napoléons in the North and 600 in the South. Such was the gun’s effectiveness that in 1863 General Robert E. Lee had all six-pounders in the Army of Northern Virginia sent to the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Va., to be melted down and recast as 12-pounders. The November 1863 Union seizure of the Ducktown copper mines near Chattanooga, Tenn., cut Confederate production of bronze, so Tredegar cast later models of the Napoléon in iron.

4 Responses to 12-Pounder Napoléon: A French Cannon in the ‘Civil’ Service

  1. Civil War Gun says:

    Continue the wonderful good article, I just read couple of articles about this web page and i believe that the blog is rattling intriguing and consists of sets of helpful information.

  2. Frank Siltman says:

    I am a professional military historian and director of the Fort Sill Museum program where the US Army Field Artillery Museum is located. Your gun detachment drill as depicted is not historically correct per the “Instructions for Artillery” by Hunt, Barry and French from 1860. This seems to be a artist’s rendering of a photo of modern re-enactors doing incorrect re-enactor drill. As a history site, it should be expected that the information depicted is correct.

  3. Marc Hermann says:

    The information contained in the graphic is woefully inaccurate as it pertains to Civil War artillery. Likewise, the positions shown do not conform to the drill as practiced at the time, and are modern interpretations often seen being executed by reenactors who have not undertaken primary source research.

  4. Frank Siltman says:

    In addition to your gun detachment drill being incorrectly depicted, I just noticed your description of the 12 pdr nomenclature is incorrect as well. The 12 pdr bore is 4.62 inches or 11.7 cm, and in fact the 12 pdr designation is the size of the solid shot that the weapon fires. Likewise, the range of solid shot with the fixed 2 1/2 lbs of powder is about 1620 yards firing solid shot at 5 degrees elevation. I don’t know who your source is on this, but you need to fire them.

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